Thoughts and other Miscellany


I’m looking for some recommendations here.

On my recent weekend away to Germany, I noticed that my German has become quite rusty again. I say “quite rusty”… I mean that I can still translate about 800-1000 words an hour without too many problems, but in conversation I was struggling to find that elusive word “achieve” (“erzielen” or “schaffen”).

So that, along with the fact that I hardly read any German books at all, and when I do they’re usually in translation from the English, means it’s time to make an effort on this front.

I have borrowed and ripped a whole stack of German audiobooks from the Book Accumulator, including translations of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, Candide, and a whole set of Georges Simenon’s MAIGRET stories. The only German audiobooks I took were Faust and a radio play (!) of Heinrich Böll’s The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum.

A brief trip to Westminster library a few days ago led to me tripping my way back to my client across Mount St Gardens with 4 German novels in hand:

Berhand Schlink’s The Reader and Perfume, a smaller Böll (The Bread of Our Youth) and W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz.

But what I’m really looking for here are novels I must read in the original German which are less famous in translation (I’ve already read two of those above in translation, although in my pre-blogging days). What are the classics of German literature that I would have read as a school child in Germany?


9 thoughts on “German”

  1. Die Buddenbrooks – Thomas Mann (you’re going to love it – if you prefer listening to it get this one: ) – Nobel Prize for Literature
    Effie Briest – Theodor Fontane
    Schachnovelle – Stephan Zweig (very short but oh so good – the Book Accumulator gave it to me as a birthday present once)
    Momo – Michael Ende (LOVE!)
    Brot und Spiele – Siegfried Lenz
    Homo Faber – Max Frisch (a must, but nothing to enjoy)

    – that should keep you busy for a week 😉

  2. Let me think back to those school days… 😉 – nah, I’m just going to list some I really enjoyed, whether I read them for school or not. I also have to say that my knowledge of the German classics is a bit truncated because I spent the last two years of school in the UK, where I did have a “German for native speakers” class, but we also read a lot of world literature
    in translation (I did the International Baccalaureate), so I think I missed out on some important German works.

    – Friedrich Dürrenmatt – Das Versprechen; Der Richter und sein Henker; Die Physiker (the last one is a play, but I LOVE it)
    – Max Frisch: Mein Name sei Gantenbein (I agree with the Twin that I didn’t enjoy “Homo faber” very much). I enjoyed his plays more though, especially “Biedermann und die Brandstifter” and “Andorra”.
    – J.W. Goethe – Die Wahlverwandtschaften
    – Anna Seghers – Das siebte Kreuz (excellent!); Transit
    – Theodor Fontane – Effi Briest
    – Erich Maria Remarque – Im Westen nichts Neues (you have to brace yourself for this one, but it’s extremely good)
    – Alfred Andersch: Sansibar oder der letzte Grund

    A newer one that I recently read and enjoyed a lot was “Tannöd” by Andrea Maria Schenkel. It’s a tiny novella you can read in one afternoon.

    Then there are some that one probably “should” read, but personally I didn’t enjoy them very much:
    – Annette von Droste-Hülshoff: Die Judenbuche
    – J.W. Goethe: Die Leiden des jungen Werther (I found Werther to be unbearably whiny, but I suppose it’s a must)
    – Günter Grass: I read “Katz und Maus” and “Im Krebsgang” and wasn’t a fan of either. The really “big” one here is “Die Blechtrommel”, which I’m attempting for the Classics Club.
    – Thomas Mann: Tod in Venedig

    I also have some on my Classics Club list that I haven’t read yet – you’re more than welcome to join me :). I might remember some more later on, so I may well get back to you again.

    1. Are you sure you’re not The Twin in disguise? We met when she came to the UK to do the IB and she did the German A1 class.

      I have read Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice in translation (it was compulsory for English World Lit for the IB), and I’m sure I read Die Physiker at school at some point but I don’t remember much of it. Thanks for all the suggestions!

      1. I’ve had another think and have come up with two that I previously missed. First, I didn’t mention Hermann Hesse. I’ve read three of his books in total, Narziss und Goldmund; Das Glasperlenspiel; and Steppenwolf, all within a relatively short timespan (about two years during sixth form). After that, I think I can never touch a book by him again. He was a very strange man. The whole mysticism thing really got to me after a while. Oddly, I think the book I enjoyed the most was Das Glasperlenspiel, although I don’t think I ever quite understood it.

        Second, I remembered reading and quite liking “Nachtzug nach Lissabon” by Pascal Mercier. I need to stop thinking about your question or else I’ll wind up completely clogging up your comments 🙂

  3. I did two intro posts when I and Lizzy organized German Literature Month last year.
    The first is about writers in general and the second focusses on women writers.
    The participants have contributed some 150+ reviews that are all on my page. I’m sure you will find something.. maybe too much. 🙂

  4. Liburuak mentioned this, but The Glass Bead Game! (Herman Hesse.) I wish I knew German so I could read this untranslated. It’s one of my favourite books ever. It took me about three years to read it due to the fact I repeated the first half about five times, mainly because I couldn’t bear to leave that world. Once you’ve read a book through you know from the beginning that there’s an end, but if you never get to the end you can pretend the beginning’s infinite!

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